Innovation: Mobile party bar and custom containers
Founders: Tom Daugherty and Lyle Stoflet
The concept behind Milwaukee-based Containers Up LLC emerged as a solution to a pressing need for its founders.
Tom Daugherty and Lyle Stoflet wanted a place to hold a party, but didn’t want it to be in their homes.[gallery type="slideshow" size="full" ids="437875,437906,437876"]
Never those to shy away from building the “weird and unusual,” they created their own party hub out of a 20-by-8-foot shipping container.
“We make weird stuff all the time,” Stoflet said.
Unusual as it may have been, the mobile party bar was a big hit and friends began asking to borrow it. From there, a business was born.
That was last year. Now, Stoflet and Daugherty, along with Milwaukee attorney Steve Glaser, run Containers Up, a growing business based in the central city, in which they convert—or “upcycle”—old shipping containers into mobile party venues for rent or sale.
The process is fairly simple: taking a 20-by-8-foot shipping container—typically purchased online—cutting out one or both of the 20-foot sides, replacing the sides with awnings and installing a full-service bar or other amenities. The company partners with Milwaukee-based furniture company Gear Grove to produce its product. Stoflet, Daugherty and Glaser all pitch in with the welding and fabrication.
Shipping containers may also be converted into business data centers. If this idea intrigues you, you may visit sites like https://bmarkostructures.com/modular-data-centers/ to get more information.
The business offers three types of mobile venues, with plans for more in the works. Current offerings include a walk-up bar, a bar with integrated seating, and another model that serves as a retail space, with a workstation to allow customers to sell products.
The containers, which are transported on a flatbed truck, can be purchased, or they can be rented for about $1,200 per day. The renter provides the food and beverages.
Containers Up has found a particular niche in the street festival scene and at trade shows—including Brew City Cigar Festival, Mama Tried Motorcycle Show and Cedarburg Strawberry Festival—as it fills the need for a pop-up venue without the investment in brick and mortar.
Glaser, an attorney who represents business owners, said he initially joined Containers Up thinking he would bring a certain level-headedness to the business.
“Tom and Lyle are the kind of guys that don’t say ‘no,’” Glaser said. “And I’m the kind of guy, because of my job, who is trained to say no. I was going to come in and help them focus … but it kind of happened the other way.”
Now, he’s right alongside his business partners, dreaming about the many directions the business could take. Hunting shacks, ice shanties, man caves, home extensions, beer gardens, children’s birthday parties—Glaser can rattle off a lengthy list of possibilities.
The business also sees a lot of potential in tailgating and Glaser said he’s exploring the idea of heated flooring to extend the business’ peak season into the fall, when the Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin Badgers football teams play.
While Glaser initially considered Stoflet and Daugherty’s business idea to be a little “crazy,” he soon saw the potential behind it. Before joining, he even ran the idea past his children, who are in their 20s, and got the stamp of approval.
“Their reaction was, ‘That would be great,’” Glaser said. “We’ve gotten great responses from everyone we’ve talked to about it. And given the resurgence in street life in Milwaukee—with the Third Ward and Fifth Ward—we just felt it had an audience.”
“It’s one of those ah-ha, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ kind of ideas,” he added.
Containers Up is currently focused on the southeastern Wisconsin market, but sees potential for expansion to Madison and Chicago. Meanwhile, the owners are committed to being a steady tenant in the central city at its production facility, located at 4720 N. 27th St. Containers Up also works to use raw materials from other local businesses and tries to employ city residents.
Glaser is a believer in the entrepreneurial potential of Milwaukee. All some businesses need, he said, is a venue to get their product out there.
“You hear about the brain drain and how Wisconsin isn’t a great place for entrepreneurs,” Glaser said. “I don’t buy that. I don’t buy that at all … We hope to enable Milwaukee to be more vibrant—whether it be the artisan food place, new butcher places, breweries, distilleries—all these great manufacturers and retailers in Wisconsin. We hope to be able to give them a venue for what they do and have some fun along the way, while also letting people enjoy Milwaukee’s summers.”